Supreme Court rules on race-conscious school placements, execution of mentally ill

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down decisions in the last three cases of its 2006 Term [Supreme Court archive] Thursday, including the consolidated cases of Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report] and Parents Involved v. Seattle School District [Duke Law case backgrounder], where the Court struck down public school consideration of race when assigning students to public schools. In the Seattle case, parents sought an injunction against the school district's policy of assigning students to schools based partly on race, so that the racial makeup of each school roughly mirrors that of the district, arguing that the consideration of race violated the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment [text]. The district court upheld the policy. A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, applying the strict scrutiny standard of the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases [JURIST online symposium] and finding that the policy was not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest. Following an en banc review, however, the full Ninth Circuit reversed the panel [opinion, PDF] and sided with the school district. Likewise, in the Missouri case, the district court refused to issue an injunction against the school district and upheld the policy under strict scrutiny. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF]. The Supreme Court reversed both decisions Thursday, holding that the policies did not survive the applicable "searching standard of review," which required the school districts to "demonstrate that the use of individual racial classifications in the assignment plans here under review is 'narrowly tailored' to achieve a 'compelling' government interest." Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Chief Justice Roberts, along with a concurrence [text] from Justice Thomas, a second concurrence [text] from Justice Kennedy, a dissent [text] from Justice Stevens, and a second dissent [text] from Justice Breyer.

In Panetti v. Quarterman [Duke Law case backgrounder], the Court held that lower courts had improperly determined that a death row inmate who has a delusion about the actual reason he faces execution despite being factually aware of the reason was competent to be executed. In considering Panetti's habeas corpus petition, the district court concluded that Panetti had failed to show that he met the standard for incompetency, despite Panetti's belief that he is being executed as punishment for preaching the gospel. The district court applied Fifth Circuit precedent and determined that Panetti could be executed so long as he understood that he committed murder, that he will be executed, and that the state has said he is being executed for the murders. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed, ruling [PDF text] that a "rational understanding" of the punishment is not required for the state to establish that a convict is competent to be executed. The Supreme Court reversed the federal appeals court, holding that the Fifth Circuit "employed an improperly restrictive test when it considered petitioner's claim of incompetency on the merits." Read the Court's 5-4 opinion [text] per Justice Kennedy, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Thomas.

Finally, in Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held that vertical minimum resale price maintenance agreements should not be deemed per se antitrust violations under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act [text]. By a 5-4 vote, the Court overturned its decision in Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co. [text], and held that the agreements should be evaluated under a "rule of reason" analysis. Leegin supplied accessories to PSKS, a retail store, but said that it would only do business with retailers who adhered to Leegin's pricing structure. When PSKS sold the Leegin-supplied products for less than the suggested retail price, Leegin stopped supplying products to the store, costing PSKS sales and profits. The Supreme Court held in Dr. Miles that vertical price fixing is a per se antitrust violation and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [PDF text] that Dr. Miles applied to the case and affirmed the jury verdict in favor of PSKS. In its ruling Thursday, the Court wrote:

The Court has abandoned the rule of per se illegality for other vertical restraints a manufacturer imposes on its distributors. Respected economic analysts, furthermore, conclude that vertical price restraints can have procompetitive effects. We now hold that Dr. Miles should be overruled and that vertical price restraints are to be judged by the rule of reason.
Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Kennedy, along with a dissent [text] per Justice Breyer.

The Court is now recessed for the summer [SCOTUSblog report].

 

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